Growing human rights push as Indian PM visits Sydney

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is welcomed at Sydney Airport.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is welcomed at Sydney Airport. Photo: Twitter (Australian Hindu Media)

The Australian government is touting its strong relationship with India but there is a growing push to raise human rights abuses with the prime minister.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has touched down in Sydney for a state visit and is set to meet with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Asked whether human rights should be on the agenda, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said India was a large democracy that shared values with Australia.

“We have never had a greater strategic alignment with India than we do right now. Both countries are deeply invested in the collective security of the Indo-Pacific region,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

“And all of this is driving a much closer relationship between (the) two countries.”

India has snubbed global calls to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Moscow remaining a large arms supplier to New Delhi.

Mr Marles used a speech at a defence summit on Monday to say Australia needed to confront “inconvenient truths” with China, as Canberra works to balance competing trade interests with the possibility of military confrontation.

Asked whether the Indian relationship should be approached the same way when it came to calling out human rights abuses and crackdowns on freedom of speech, Mr Marles said the two nations were starkly different.

“We’re talking about two very different situations,” he said.

“We share values with India. India is a democracy.

“I’m not about to go through what will be said or not said in the conversation between our two prime ministers tomorrow, theirs is a very fulsome and open relationship.”

Thousands of members of the Indian diaspora are gathering in Sydney for Mr Modi’s whistlestop tour of the harbourside city.

The Indian prime minister landed at Sydney Airport on Monday night, greeted by Australia’s high commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell, and NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey, who is the son of migrants from the Punjab region.

Mr Modi is expected to retrace steps taken in his last Australian visit eight years ago by rallying 16,000 ecstatic supporters at Sydney Superdome on Tuesday evening.

The crowd will include people from Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne as well as a New Zealand contingent.

The Indian Australia Diaspora Foundation said Mr Albanese would also attend in “a momentous occasion to strengthen bilateral relations”.

Talks between the two leaders are expected to focus on strengthening the countries’ defence and trade relationships, and on the transition to clean energy sources.

Mr Albanese is also under pressure to raise human rights concerns with Mr Modi, who has been accused of cracking down on freedom of speech in India to shield his government from domestic criticism over the treatment of minorities.

Mr Modi is earlier expected to drop by Indian businesses in western Sydney for the unveiling of a foundation stone at the entrance to “Little India” at Harris Park.

One in three residents of Harris Park was born in India, 10 times the share in Greater Sydney or elsewhere in Australia, and the suburb is home to a bustling retail and dining precinct showcasing the best of the subcontinent.


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